They’re watch­ing you Rafael Lozano-Hem­mer


afael Lozano-Hem­mer is a new-me­dia artist whose projects of­ten en­gage the pub­lic. The Mex­i­can-born artist, who lives and works in Canada, teamed up with Pol­ish artist Kryzsztof Wod­iczko in 2015 to cre­ate Zoom Pav­il­ion, an in­ter­ac­tive video in­stal­la­tion on view in SITE Santa Fe’s ex­hi­bi­tion Fu­ture Shock .In Zoom Pav­il­ion, which takes up an en­tire room, wall-mounted cam­eras cap­ture the move­ments of ev­ery­one in the space, zoom­ing in on their in­di­vid­ual faces and pro­ject­ing them in a dis­play along three of the gallery’s four walls. But there’s more to Zoom Pav­il­ion than sim­ply ap­peal­ing to the pub­lic’s van­ity in the era of self­ies and the nov­elty of see­ing one­self pro­jected larger than life. Sure, it can be fun to gaze upon your own vis­age or those of your friends — un­til you re­al­ize what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. “All of th­ese cam­eras are record­ing us,” said Irene Hof­mann, SITE’S Phillips Di­rec­tor and Chief Cu­ra­tor, of the in­stal­la­tion, which uses 12 com­put­er­ized sur­veil­lance sys­tems de­signed to fol­low in­di­vid­u­als as they move through the space. “It has fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware, and it’s re­ally en­gag­ing for peo­ple be­cause you come in and it’s like, ‘Oh. Look. It’s got you up there.’ But it’s about how eas­ily we sub­mit to sur­veil­lance.”

Lozano-Hem­mer has in­cor­po­rated char­ac­ter­is­tics unique to in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the pub­lic in his pre­vi­ous work. His in­stal­la­tion Pulse In­dex was also ex­hib­ited at SITE in the 2012 ex­hi­bi­tion Time Lapse. For Pulse In­dex, vis­i­tors to the show stuck a fin­ger in a record­ing de­vice that took a dig­i­tal im­age of their finger­prints and pro­jected them on a wall. Each print be­came smaller and smaller as more were added while peo­ple will­ingly al­lowed their iden­ti­fy­ing marks to be­come part of the real-time art­work. Never mind that, once cap­tured, each per­son’s prints were added to a larger ar­chive, with no one ques­tion­ing how their in­di­vid­ual in­for­ma­tion might be later used. “That’s a piece that peo­ple re­ally par­tic­i­pated in,” Hof­mann said. “How eas­ily peo­ple sub­mit their very pri­vate, per­sonal mark­ers.”

But while Pulse In­dex re­quired the par­tic­i­pants’ con­sent, the same can­not ex­actly be said of Zoom

Pav­il­ion, be­cause vis­i­tors may not re­al­ize that they’ve be­come a part of the work un­til af­ter they’ve en­tered the gallery space, and then it’s too late. But how con­cerned should you be? Maybe not very. LozanoHem­mer and Wod­ickzo are artists, af­ter all, and not a gov­ern­ment agency us­ing your im­age or track­ing your where­abouts for some ne­far­i­ous pur­pose à la Ge­orge Or­well’s 1984. The irony of pub­lic en­gage­ment is that any time we will­ingly sub­mit to sur­veil­lance, which hap­pens more of­ten than we may care to ad­mit, we never know who’s re­ally watch­ing — or if, in­deed, any­one is watch­ing at all. But at some point, we ac­cepted sur­veil­lance as the norm wher­ever there are cam­eras — at the gro­cery store or at the phar­macy, in mu­se­ums, at work, and even out on the streets — with­out re­sis­tance.

Zoom Pav­il­ion is a fluid video work that is ev­er­chang­ing, just as the vis­i­tors to the space change from mo­ment to mo­ment. It takes the idea of the pub­lic selfie to an ex­treme, mag­ni­fy­ing faces as much as 35 times their ac­tual size to the point where de­tails be­come ab­strac­tions. It can be a daz­zling, dizzy­ing work that ebbs and flows with con­stant move­ment. Com­bined with fa­cial-recog­ni­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, its po­ten­tial use as a tool for stealth pur­poses is dis­turb­ing. Yet, again, how eas­ily we al­low our move­ments to be tracked, even when the space we’re mov­ing in is a vir­tual one. Many can re­late to vis­it­ing an on­line store and see­ing the prod­ucts they sell sud­denly show up in ads on our Face­book page or other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, even though we never know­ingly gave the site our per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

But this is the age of “opt out” rather than “opt in,” and one must re­quest to have per­sonal in­for­ma­tion re­moved from web­sites rather than the other way around. Lozano-Hem­mer and Wod­ickzo’s work re­minds us that we are now in a time when pri­vacy has changed from a right into a priv­i­lege. And if you don’t think Zoom Pav­il­ion is ac­tu­ally record­ing and not merely watch­ing, a help­ful time stamp ac­com­pa­nies the im­ages, sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise. It does more than sim­ply rec­og­nize your face, how­ever — it can pick you out in a crowd by track­ing spa­tial re­la­tion­ships in­side the ex­hibit space, record­ing the num­ber of bod­ies and as­sign­ing you a num­ber such as 1 of 20, for in­stance, or 35 of 167. In other words, it can po­ten­tially know not just who you are but where you are in time and space, at least within the lim­ited en­vi­ron­ment where it’s dis­played. When such tech­nol­ogy is ap­plied to the greater in­fra­struc­ture of pub­lic sur­veil­lance, as it has been for quite some time, the im­pli­ca­tions for our right to pri­vacy are stag­ger­ing. Smile and say “cheese.”

— Michael Abatemarco

Rafael Lozano-Hem­mer gives a free talk on Sun­day, Oct. 8, at 11 a.m. in SITE Santa Fe’s Mar­lene Nathan Mey­er­son Au­di­to­rium; 505-989-1199.


Zoom Pav­il­ion (in­stal­la­tion shot), 2015, pro­jec­tors, in­frared cam­eras, ro­botic zoom cam­eras, com­put­ers, IR il­lu­mi­na­tors; photo Gabriela Cam­pos / The New Mex­i­can

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